Translated from the
Russian by Eugenius
The late June
morning painted the earth in bright Cézanne strokes. The day promised to
be hot, the air was gradually being filled with torrid heat, but the real
scorching heat has not come yet. The tin roof of the garden apartment has not
yet become heated, and it was fresh in the garret. The trash, which was dumped
here, persistently reeked with dust. Old things were moved here from the city
apartment waiting for the best of times when they would be needed, but
nevertheless they remained unclaimed and were covered with wrinkles of the
spider’s web, but somewhere within the depths of the broken mechanisms and in
the wadding souls of the overcoats which had already become bygone, there still
was a glimmer of hope, that they would become necessary someday; how lucky is
the squeezed sofa with squeaky springs, which impressively leaned against the
wall near the garret window. The space around it was clear and homelike; this
made it stand out from the other ramshackle furniture, which was accumulated
here. It had a master – a being who is sacred to particular thing, who can
elevate it above the odds and ends and give it an exulted name – a “thing”.
long ago chosen a corner in the garret, where nobody prohibited him to read
till midnight, kept order and told him, that each thing should have its own
place. Near the sofa, the great-grandmother’s cabinet perched itself, and the
books, comics, a heap of cassettes and details of the disassembled radio
engineering and a weather-beaten tape recorder were heaped upon it. A juice
box, where the bits and wrappers were dumped, was standing on the floor but
this did not bring discord into the general furniture of the garret and was well
blended with the atmosphere of recklessness, which reigned here.
been sticking around his look-out station for a solid hour having fastened his
gaze on a garret window waiting for Verka to appear from the neighboring house.
It was not because he has liked Verka for a long time. She was older, and
earlier Kostya considered her to be a plump girl, but all the things changed in
this summer season.
had arrived to his dacha, Verka measured him with her estimating eye and
- Well, you’ve
grown really tall during the winter! Even taller than me. Do you have a
girlfriend? I’ll retake you.
She winked in
a flirtatious manner and went into her house with laughter. Kostya felt, that
his face was flooded with a smarting wave of confusion. Never before did a girl
flaunt with him so openly. Today he was kind of enlightened – and there was
nothing surprising. Verka demonstrated her merits so openly, that only a blind
man could miss them. The length of her skirts was beyond praise, and the deep
low necks of her dresses told about the fullness of her generous nature without
beating around the bush. Of course, to Kostya’s taste his neighbor was a little
bit plump, but on the other hand last year she was said to have kissed everyone.
It is a shame to say, but this circumstance played not the last role among the
reasons of Kostya’s infatuation.
to catch Verka’s eye more often, but here he inopportunely faced the student
Stas to be an obstacle. And what did Verka find in this old man? He is already
around twenty or even twenty-one. If only he had an opportunity to speak to her
one on one! But Verka all the day rolled in a chaise longue, which stood in the
garden, where her mother pottered about; and in the evenings she walked with
Stas. However, infatuation has no limits. Kostya noticed that recently Verka became
a frequent visitor to the forest to pick up some mushrooms and understood that
it was his only chance.
was gradually turning into an afternoon. The sun crept up and generously poured
out the streams of light to the garden, which looked like a patchwork quilt,
woven of the rectangles of different tints of green – from shrill bright to
dark with wine red tint Bordeaux.
with disappointment that he had spent so much time waiting in vain, and here
Verka appeared on the porch with a basket in her hands. She went around the
house and disappeared round the corner. It’s time! Kostya went headlong down
the steep staircase.
- Ma, I’ll
pick some mushrooms, - he reported, running.
-Take a basket
at least. Are you going to put them in your pockets? – Zoya Petrovna shook her
At that time Kostya
thought least of all about the mushrooms.
I’ll put them
into the bag! – He shouted to get rid and, not spending his time in vain,
hurried up outside.
began to grow behind the trench, which was overgrown with the palisade of the
birch forest, which was as thin as small twigs. Verka bore herself in the
street, slightly rocking with her thighs, tightened in the pants, which were so
tight, that is was a mystery how she could get into them. Kostya caught up with
her near the small bridge, which was covered with the brushwood of the pink
cones of the willow herb.
- Hey, are you
going to pick some mushrooms? - He asked with an artificial surprise. – What a
coincidence! I’ve decided to pick some too.
you put them, you, lousy mushroomer? – Verka grumbled, having measured Kostya
with a mocking eye. She did not share Kostya’s joy of the meeting, judging by
“My Mom was
right. It was a mistake with the basket,” – Kostya thought to himself, but then
he offered without confusion:
- Let’s put
the mushrooms into your basket. I know some mushroom places. There’re only
cepes in one of such places. I’ll show you, - Kostya promised generously, as he
was ready to put the most concealed thoughts to the feet of his chosen one.
lady-love undoubtedly did not gain an appreciation of his noble impulse.
- Be off! I
like to pick up mushrooms without assistants, - she murmured. The boards have
respectfully caved in and sighed under her stalk. Maybe, Kostya would rather
turn back and go home after such an icy reception, but he decided not to
abandon. Having run across the plank footways after Verka, he rounded the elder
bush and… stumbled on Stas.
- Are you with
a company today? – Stas asked Verka with displeasure.
- Are you
jealous? – She laughed flirtatiously.
- Why? I can leave you one
on one. Stas turned back to leave. And Verka dashed after him.
- What are you doing?
That’s a joke.
- I have a poor sense of humor. I don’t understand jokes, - Stas snapped out.
A quarrel was boiling up.
Kostya did not resist adding oil to the fire and put in his weighty utterance:
- Good riddance, if he’s
Keep off the adult
business! – Verka shouted at him angrily.
Kostya stopped short. The
offense approached the throat like a lump. Kostya screwed up his eyes in an
angry manner in order to not let it out.
- An adult, you say! Only
a year older. Graduate from school first, - he snarled.
It seemed that Verka did
not hear his words. She ran after Stas whimpering mournfully:
- Do you think I dragged
him? Honestly, he tagged after me. I tried to drive him away. Am I crazy to
take up with him?
Kostya turned and went
away in prompt steps without waiting for the scene of happy reconciliation.
The mushroomers hallooed
to each other not far away. The thought of running into people made Kostya
sick. He wanted to stay alone. He abruptly turned from the path and began to
make his way through the bushes somewhat farther from the voice up hill and
The dry branches cracked
in anguish under the soles of the sneakers. The crash of the breaking boughs
stirred up the hazy feeling of satisfaction in Kostya’s heart, and he deliberately
made his way through the wind-fallen trees without looking for an easy way.
Suddenly he approached the
glade and stopped, having realized that he had wandered to an unknown place. In
the middle of the glade grew a gigantic silver birch, a real original mother of
the forest. Its enormously thick trunk, which was two girths thick, hardly
looked like that of a silver birch. The bark had long ago lost the virgin
whiteness and became black and gnarled because of years and misfortunes
Kostya approached the
silver birch, sat on the grass and leaned against the warm and rough trunk. Having
hidden his face in his lap, he closed his eyes, and the thoughts about Verka
instantly ran through his head like an annoying swarm. The stifling wave of
offense came over him.
- Verka isn’t so pretty.
She has plump thighs. And her eyes are bulging, - Kostya said aloud with heat,
convincing himself to forget Verka and his indignity, however he did not feel
The sound of his own voice
excited him even stronger. Kostya looked around the glade, looking for
something to take it out on. The forest generously offered simple sweets, but
Kostya was blind to see the beauty. Refracted through the prism of the bad
mood, the world turned into the faceless green haze, on whose background the
family of the fly agarics stood out like a scarlet stain, proudly displaying
their flamboyant beauty.
- Why are you goggling?!
It’d be better if I fell in love with the first one who comes along! – Kostya
shouted crossly, just as if the mushrooms objected or were the cause of his
“The first one who comes
along… comes along…” – the forest replied.
Kostya trembled and looked
around, but having understood that it was just an echo, looked at the fly
agarics angrily. He absent-mindedly found a cone on the ground just by feeling
and threw it to the biggest mushroom with all his might. Having overshot the
target, the cone plopped down far behind. This excited Kostya even stronger. He
took a handful of cones and began to maliciously shoot the fly agarics, which
happened to be there in the heat of the moment. The cap fell off the father of
the family. The small fly agarics clung to the beheaded stem, and the merciless
artillery of the cones continued the shooting, crashing down all around and
turning the beauty into the medley.
Suddenly a ringing halloo
- Hey! Why do you let
loose with your fists?
There was no one nearby.
It seemed to Kostya for a moment that an unclear silhouette glimpsed among the
leaves which grew not far away. He looked hard and saw the sky, which was
washed in the crown of the tree, and green necklaces of the leaves rippled and
trembled, creating an illusion of movement. Kostya looked around perplexedly
for some time, but has not found anyone, and his wrath passed away completely.
Kostya cast a cone, which was squeezed in his fist not aiming deliberately, but
rather amain, to the small fly agarics, which came off unhurt.
- Are you deaf? What if
the same thing happened to you? – He heard again.
Something whistled and hit
against the trunk of the tree. Kostya looked back, and what he saw sent shivers
down his spine. Right above his head an arrow stuck out the gnarled birch bark;
it was not fake, though, to the contrary, it was real, with a metal head.
Having observed the trajectory of the arrow, Kostya slowly shifted his gaze to
the aspen, and at this time he saw a girl in the greenish specks of the
shivering leaves. Having saddled the bough, she aimed a bow at him.
- Are you mad? – Kostya
screamed in an altered voice and hid behind the tree with a speed, high enough
to be recorded in a book of records.
- Okay, go out, I won’t
harm you, -the girl began to laugh loudly.
The archer came down with
the sleight of a monkey, and then she drooped on a bough, and having let her
hands come away, jumped to the ground. She looked of the same age as Kostya.
She was just an ordinary girl: grey eyes, snub nose, covered with freckles and
curly hair of the color of the May honey, which was all over the place.
However, she was dressed in a pretty strange manner for a forest promenade: she
was barefoot and had a variegated yellow and green dress on, which was
unnoticeable among the leaves. First of all, the girl took the arrow out of the
birch tree and stroked the wound on the bark muttering something under her
breath, and then came to the fly agarics and, having squatted, shook her head:
- Oh, oh, you’ve messed it
up. Why in this world are you so angry?
Kostya looked at her
apprehensively and a thought was running in his head:
“She’s a schizo! Jumps
like a kangaroo. All loonies are said to be strong. Who knows, what’s in her
- Fear not, - the girl
said and smiled.
Her face was wonderfully
transformed. In her eyes jumped mischievous sparks, and a dimple appeared on
her cheek. No, she did not look like a madwoman. The lost bravery returned to
Kostya gradually, and with it the righteous indignation boiled up.
- Do you understand what
you’re doing? You nearly killed a man, you hysterical Robin Hood!
- Oh, what makes you think
that? – The girl lifted her hands. – I didn’t aim at you. I just wanted to stop
the evil. Don’t get mad, offense is a poor friend.
- Didn’t aim, - Kostya
mimicked her. What if the arrow had flown lower?
The girl laughed rippingly
as if Kostya had told a funny joke.
- Why should it fly lower,
if I didn’t aim lower?
- Even if you shot an
apple, you’d of course always drive the nail, - Kostya kidded the stranger.
- Where have you seen
apples on a birch tree? Maybe, you’ll attempt to make it, that apples will grow
on a birch tree. In order to achieve it, your soul should ask for a miracle!
The seriousness of her
tone could hardly give a clue whether she joked, or she was a bit hard up for
humor and interpreted everything literally.
- Hey, where are you from?
I haven’t seen you in the holiday village, - Kostya said.
- I’m not from the
village, I’m from the forest.
- Oh… I see, - Kostya
Now everything fell into
place. It is the forester’s daughter. It is nothing surprising that she knows
the forest the way one knows the back of one’s hand, shoots and crawls the
trees no worse than a boy.
- You’re keen at coping
with the bow. Can you teach me?
- I can’t. What if you
begin to shoot squirrels and birds?
- Am I a brute? – Kostya
- Why then you have knocked
down the fly agarics? – The girl reminded him, having looked at him askance.
- It was just foolishness.
He turned his eyes away. Earlier,
Kostya many times knocked down the inedible mushrooms but now for some reason,
he was ashamed. It was strange, but he did not ponder, why did this stranger
need a bow, if not for hunting.
- Okay, let bygones be
bygones… Let’s go, I’ll show you my bilberry glade, - the girl offered and
swiftly slipped past the thicket of the bushes and beckoned Kostya.
Lightly, just like a
rustle of the wind, which got lost in the leaves, she maneuvered between the
overgrown bushes and hanging branches of the trees. The forest parted before
her. The bare feet stepped confidently, and she noticed neither prickles nor
knots. Her green dress blended with the luxuriant verdure of the late June.
Kostya followed her, having concentrated on his guide’s golden head of hair,
which glimpsed between the branches like a sunny stain. Suddenly, he lost her
out of the sight and stopped distractedly.
- Here we are, - he heard.
Kostya came at the call
and found himself on a hardly noticeable path which led to the small forest
swamp, which was grown with sedge. On knolls-the-islets, the birches were
placed in groups on some spots and in some spots one by one. The wind pulled
around the golden and green lace of the crowns, and the trees swayed as if
dancing in a circle.
The new acquaintance sat
on a fallen birch, which was covered with luxurious velvet of the moss. The
thickets of bilberry were spread all around, like a curly carpet. The
dark-violet splashes of the berries strew the gentle matt blue greenness of the
- Holy cow! – Kostya
whistled when he saw such abundance.
- Do you like it? This is
my glade. In fact, I don’t show it to the first one who comes along, - the girl
The almost tangible words
hung in the midair.
“The first one who comes
along… Has she really heard it? That’s silly!” Kostya suddenly recalled Verka. Now
the morning incident seemed to be trivial and not worth the attention.
The new acquaintance
turned her derisive look away from Kostya, jumped down from the birch and
squatted. Not a little bit of those alluring promises, which excite the
youthful dreams, like those of Verka, were hidden in her. Her adolescent body
was scrawny and angular. The perfect Sculptor, the Nature, was yet supposed to
work in order to shape the lines rounded and womanlike. She was not the type of
girls all the boys make a beeline for.
The girl gathered a
handful of berries and sent them to her mouth. Kostya wanted to follow her
example, but the berries on the nearest bushes were not yet ripe.
- Remember this place.
You’ll come here again, when the berries have ripened, - the girl burst out
- Aha, a crane and a
vixen, - Kostya smiled having recalled the famous fable.
Pardon? – She asked again.
- Never mind. What is your
- Nika, and yours?
- Kostya. And what is the
full name of Nika? Veronica, right? – He inquired just to be polite.
- No, it’s… - the girl looked
at the berries and declared: - Nika means Chernika, the Russian name of
- Aha, nice to meet you,
and I’m hawthorn, - Kostya smiled.
Nika stared at him
- You said you’re Kostya.
- Are you a dunce? Don’t
you understand jokes? Of course, Kostya. And you aren’t bilberry.
- Maybe not, - Nika
smiled. I am in a bilberry mood today, hence I’m Chernika. You know, Nika is a
very convenient name, it can mean anything.
- How? – Kostya asked.
- Well, if I’m in a wild
strawberry mood, I’ll become Zemlya-Nika. Or Broos-Nika, the cowberry. Or, for
example… - She suddenly fell into silence and stared at Kostya as if she saw
him for the first time. – Hey, maybe you are right. I am not Chernika. Now I
know my name exactly!
- What’s your name then?
- Kostyanika, the Bramble!
- Nika reported excitedly. Her cheeks glowed, and her eyes sparkled as if she
had made a great discovery. Kostya and Nika, you see, become Kostya-Nika.
- Wonderful! I won’t get
bored with you! – Kostya exclaimed.
He would never have
thought that their names compose a single word.
Talking with each other
they returned to that very glade, where they had met, and sat under the birch.
Kostya did not usually find topics to talk with girls, but Nika was none of his
mincing classmates, who pose themselves as adults. It was easy to talk to her,
maybe, because she lived in the forest. Kostya recalled her words about “the
first one who comes along” from time to time, and the question whether she had
heard it or not, stung him again and again. What a fool he was to blurt out
Nika talked about the
habits of the forest beasts. Kostya listened to her talk, having closed his
eyes a bit and he did not notice that he fell into a doze. The sun had been
high above the forest, when Kostya woke up. He opened his eyes. The foliage
raged all around. There was no girl nearby. It was impossible to discern a
green-yellow dress or a sunny stain of the hair in the mixture of all the tints
Now this meeting seemed to
be unreal. “Maybe, it was a dream?” – Kostya thought. On the other hand, he saw
her so clearly, and they went to the bilberry glade together. Dreams cannot be
so real. Having decided, that he will by all means try to find this girl Kostya
got up and went home.